AFC Applauds Gov. Ducey and Ariz. Legislature for Law Helping Navajo Families in Education Crisis

Ducey signs HB 2758 but calls for a broader, permanent fix next legislative session

PHOENIX – The American Federation for Children, the nation’s voice for educational choice, applauds Gov. Doug Ducey and the lawmakers who worked together on an emergency legislative fix for eight Navajo families caught up in an education crisis. The tribal families all qualify for state funds to be able to pay tuition at private schools through the Empowerment Scholarship Account program (ESA). After two years of being allowed to use the funds at a small private school located less than a mile into New Mexico, and yet still within the boundaries of the Navajo reservation, the families started receiving 10-day demand letters for repayment of thousands of dollars to the state.

AFC interviewed the families and shared their plight with the state through a powerful video alerting lawmakers and Gov. Ducey. Legislators quickly worked to resolve the situation within days through HB 2758, a bipartisan bill which passed unanimously.

Through HB 2758, the families will not have to pay the ESA funds back to the state and they will be allowed to continue using their ESAs at the private school in New Mexico for one more year. However, upon signing HB 2758 into law yesterday, Gov. Ducey also sent a formal letter to leadership in the Senate and House strongly expressing his commitment to finding a permanent solution next legislative session.

“The impacted children will be allowed to attend a school that has served them well for years for just one more school year – all the time knowing that they will not be able to continue unless a permanent solution is enacted. To that end, I look forward to working with the legislature to pass a permanent fix that will provide certainty and stability to these children, and for all of the Arizona children living in the Navajo Nation,” Gov. Ducey’s letter states.

The affected Navajo families expressed deep gratitude and appreciation for all of the state officials who immediately understood their plight and sprung into action to help them find a proper resolution.

Statement from Timothy and Toshika Helton, parents of two children at Hilltop:

“To all the Arizona lawmakers, the Governor, and to the State of Arizona, thank you so much for all that you have done, words can not express how we feel except we are so thankful and appreciate the lifting of this heavy weight off our shoulders. Thank you for allowing our two daughters to return for another year to Hilltop Christian School.”

Statement from Kendra Dale, mom of kindergartener at Hilltop: 

“I would like to share my gratitude and would like to thank the Governor and the lawmakers for passing this law for us the eight Navajo families that have stressed over the demand letters from the ADE, wondering how we were going to get the money to pay back the amounts we were told to pay back, Ahehee’.”

Statement from Myron Lizer, Navajo National Vice President:  

“We want to thank Governor Ducey and the legislators who made sure the families would be held harmless. We look forward to working on a permanent fix that empowers our Native families with more educational freedom and opportunities in the future, that would certainly include making the necessary modifications to the ESA law to allow Navajo families to attend Hilltop as part of the ESA program beyond the next school year.”

Statement from Steve Smith, AFC Arizona State Director:

“We applaud Governor Doug Ducey as well as our State Senators and Representatives for their compassion, immediate action, and hard work to pass emergency legislation during the last week of session to correct this injustice.The Governor’s assurances that he will lead the charge to find a permanent solution shows he is committed to providing educational freedom to these Navajo families so that they are able to access any school of their choice, especially any of the schools that are located in or near their own tribal communities.”

Background

Since 2015, ESAs have been offered as an educational opportunity to students living on the state’s tribal lands where many of the state schools are rated D or F. Specifically, on the Navajo Nation in the area where these families reside, 90 percent of K-12 students are attending perennially failing state schools which makes the need for school choice programs such as ESAs especially crucial. The American Federation for Children works diligently throughout Arizona’s most disadvantaged and under resourced communities to ensure every child has equal opportunity to obtain a quality education.